Pubdate: Fri, 03 Feb 2017
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2017 Times Colonist
Author: Dirk Meissner
Page: C1


Among the medical diplomas, certificates and degrees on Dr. Perry
Kendall's office wall is a framed copy of a newspaper with a headline
that screams, City Doctors Give Okay to Socialized Medicine.

B.C.'s provincial health officer laughs at the mock front page of a
Vancouver newspaper from 1951 that was given to him by his
father-in-law, also a doctor.

The page is forward-looking, similar to Kendall's approach during a
45-year career in public health that started in free medical clinics
in Toronto and Vancouver, and now sees him at the forefront of British
Columbia's overdose crisis.

The arrival of the powerful opioid fentanyl caused 914 overdose deaths
in B.C. last year, almost 80 per cent higher than the 510 deaths
recorded by the provincial coroner in 2015.

British-born Kendall said his family roots have helped him drive
health policy changes that were sometimes controversial, but now are
common practice.

"My father was very socially conscious," said Kendall, provincial
health officer since 1999. "He was a very ethical person. So was my

Banning smoking in work and public spaces, providing needle exchanges
to prevent the spread of HIV and opening safe injection sites for
illicit drug users have been championed by Kendall, who was city
health officer in Toronto and Victoria before becoming B.C.'s
provincial health officer.

He recalls how former Vancouver mayors Philip Owen and Larry Campbell
supported supervised injection sites in the Downtown Eastside, despite
being at opposite ends of the political spectrum. "They saw it as a
health problem and a way to stop people dying," he said.

But of all the public health problems Kendall has dealt with -
including HIV, AIDS, SARS and H1N1 - nothing has been as devastating
as the opioid crisis in B.C., he said. "In terms of morbidity and
mortality, it's way above anything killing people in the time I've
been in public health," he said. "The issue is, it's not something
that by and large everybody thinks could happen to them, which is the
difference between an infectious disease, something that terrifies us
like Ebola or a pandemic."

Kendall said fentanyl is killing people from all walks of life and
he's pushing the province to adopt a European-style drug treatment
program that includes providing medicinal heroin to patients. The
European programs work, he said, with evidence of reduced overdose
deaths and stable lives for drug users.

Vancouver's Crosstown Clinic is the only facility in North America
that offers medicinal heroin.

John Blatherwick worked with Kendall on anti-smoking, needle exchange,
HIV infection and safe injection programs when he was Vancouver's
health officer and is impressed by his former colleague's political
savvy in promoting change. "He positions things well for the
politicians to be able to make some of the tough decisions they have
to make. That's a really tough trick."

Kendall was appointed by the New Democrats and has held the position
during four consecutive Liberal governments. He has announced his
retirement twice, but never followed through.

Blatherwick said he senses Kendall has the ear of Health Minister
Terry Lake on the overdose crisis. "I see Terry Lake making statements
that tell me Perry has been talking to him very earnestly and has
gotten him to understand how serious the crisis is," said

Lake, who acknowledges the government is considering recommendations
on pharmaceutical heroin, said he and Kendall have a working
relationship that resembles a professor and student.

"I learn so much from him," said Lake. "I don't think you could find
any person working in public health in Canada who has the experience
and helped shape the response to so many public health issues."

Prof. Bernie Pauly at the University of Victoria's centre for
addictions research said Kendall's ideas get wide attention.

"When I think about who is best to be in that lead role in the
province, having someone like Perry, who has been a leader throughout
his career in harm reduction and prevention, I think of few who have
been such a pioneer in that area," she said.
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